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Beginning Instructional Authoring: Are You Looking Out for YOUR Skills? Pep Talk, Part One

by Patti Shank

December 15, 2011


by Patti Shank

December 15, 2011

“Let’s put this important issue on the table. Whose responsibility is it to make sure you build and maintain a good skill set?”

It’s almost next year. Do you know where your skills are going to be in December 2012? My premise … you need to have a good idea of that. Whether you’re new to the field, an expert, or anywhere in between, you should be planning next year’s professional development activities now, if you haven’t done so already. The reason for this should be obvious. If you leave your professional development up to chance (and I know a lot of you have done just that), you’re leaving something of grave importance to chance. In a field where skill expectations are ever expanding, and a moving target to boot, your skill development is critical and the person next to you is probably planning theirs. My goal is to convince you in a few short minutes to make some plans to take care of a very important asset: your skills.

Sure, it’s like eating an elephant, but you know how to eat an elephant…

Professional Development, Part 1 & 2

If you’re new to the eLearning field, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and think that you’ll never get up to speed. But remember how to eat an elephant: One bite at a time! If you view the elephant (your skill set) as a huge goal that your entire career depends on, it seems unmanageable. If you think of it as stages and steps, it seems far more manageable. And it is. But you have to plan it, and you need to manage and maintain the plan.

Everyone in a skill-intensive field needs to plan for growing their skill set. Here’s a secret that may not be obvious. The more you know, the easier it’ll be to learn more because you have a greater foundation from which to understand new things. One of my friends and mentors, Dr. Saul Carliner, once explained (when I was complaining about the headaches of graduate work many years ago) that while experience is the best teacher, a good education provides the foundation to make the most sense of experience. In other words, he was telling me to stop complaining and make the most of growing my skill set.

In most cases, you’ll expand your skills both through experience and through professional development (getting a degree is one form of professional development but there are many others such as conferences, professional association meetings, Webinars, books and videos, mentoring, and others that I’ll discuss in more detail next month). Some people get varied experiences on the job but others don’t. Think about your job. Are you getting the opportunity to learn a lot on the job? Are you getting widely varied experiences where you have the opportunity to learn new and different skills on a regular basis? If not, your professional development time is going to be especially important to your growth. In any event, you’ll need experience and professional development to grow your skill set. Consider how you will get enough of both.

Think of it this way. When you have investments, you can use those investments to make more money. The larger the amount of your investments, the more money you can make with them. Skills are the same way. The larger your skill set, the more they can do for you.

Not just technical skills…

A lot of people in the eLearning field think they mainly need to gain technical skills. Don’t get me wrong, those are critical and they’re often the most challenging to get because they’re a moving target. But they’re not enough by a long shot. I encourage you to think of your skill set as falling into three different buckets: business skills, learning skills, and technical skills. (Figure 1)

Figure 1. Your skill set consists of three areas.

Business skills include such skills as project management, financial skills, and learning how your organization and industry work. It’s not enough these days to just understand how your job or department works. Learning skills involve such skills as understanding how people learn, how to design good assessments, and how to provide performance support in addition to or instead of courses (a lot of the time, people not only need courses, which are expensive and time consuming to build, but also need less expensive performance support tools such as job aids). Technical skills include such skills as how to use authoring tools, how to build good screenshots, and how to edit images.

Let’s put this important issue on the table. Whose responsibility is it to make sure you build and maintain a good skill set? Many people make the mistake of thinking it’s their employer’s responsibility, but guess what? It’s your brain and skill set and your employability that’s at stake. I assure you that your employer isn’t as concerned about that as you need to be. So even if you have to spend your own time and money to do this (and really, I don’t know any reason why you shouldn’t be willing to spend your own time and money to grow your own brain and skill set), you should do it.

Next month I’ll get specific about some options for professional development you might want to consider, especially if you don’t have a big budget.

Your thoughts?

What do you think? Do you have specific plans for how you’re going to grow your skills in 2012? Do you think it’s as important as I do? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section. And stay tuned for specific suggestions next month.


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Thank you Patti for your article. It seems that we do see things from the same point of view.
Absolutely agree: It is MY responsibility to develop MY skills.
Even though I don't fully agree with your example about money*, I do love the three baskets concept.
Actually I think they can apply in any type of work, not just in elearning.
My plan for 2012 includes:
a) reading new articles from the field every week (every day when it's possible)
b) participate in distance workshops/trainings/seminars
c) attend one or two conferences
d) choose a book gift for my self about a tool I want to explore
e) find time to "play" with tools I want to learn and always avoiding it.

Looking forward to your suggestions!

* You say: "When you have investments, you can use those investments to make more money", but sometimes money investments may lead to bankruptcy, while learning investments never...
Annak, I thought about my investments analogy and realized that sometimes, these days, they dissapear. Luckily your skills don't. I'm impressed with your list of plans and I realized by yours that I need to make MORE plans so I will.
Patti - I always love reading what you have to say. I definately agree. Constant professional development is extremely important and shouldn't be left to chance. My brain - My Development - My Responsibility.

Of course, it is always nice if/when the employer supports this - and I am one of those extremely fortunate employees who has an employer that sees the benefit and supports my professional development. Even with that support, there is always more to do/develop that falls outside the scope of my job. If I want it, I make it happen -- and ultimately the picture of where I end up in my development was my choice.
Patti, I always enjoy your no-nonsense articles, and this one is no different. Next year, I plan to actually DO something with all the resources that I encounter -- READ the e-learning article I download, DO something in the workplace that I learned about in a webinar, ACT on ideas shared by others.

Thanks for the reminder to do good for ourselves in order to do good for others.
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